Q & A with Parenting Expert Sharon Mazel
So much change takes place in baby’s first year of life! Not only will babies likely triple their birth weight by about 12 months of age, they will learn to crawl, eat solid food, stand up, and for many, take their first steps. Which is a lot to learn! To dig into this a bit we chatted with Sharon Mazel, parenting expert.
What’s your opinion on feeding a baby rice cereal?
Rice cereal used to be the recommended first food for a baby starting solids. In fact, all four of my children ate rice cereal when they first started solids! But that was then and this is now… and these days, most pediatricians and pediatric nutritionists recommend shying away from rice cereal, certainly as a first food, and even as a food consumed often. That’s because rice contains elevated levels of arsenic, and it’s never a good idea to feed a young developing baby large amounts of food that contains traces of heavy metals. If that’s not reason enough to reach for a different first food for your little one, consider that rice cereal is pretty bland and it’s always better to introduce your baby to a diet with varied tastes and textures. That said, some doctors still recommend rice cereal for babies since it’s a good source of iron (assuming, of course, that it’s iron-enriched). And while it’s fine to turn to rice cereal occasionally, I would suggest reaching instead for other fortified baby cereals made from oats, wheat, quinoa, or other healthy grains when you’re looking for a cereal. Or better yet, look for other sources of iron for your baby: lentils, beans, beef, tofu, egg yolks – all foods that you can start serving up right from the start.
What are the key developmental milestones for the first year?
It’s actually amazing what happens in baby’s first year when it comes to development – especially considering where your baby starts to where they end up by the first birthday. There are many developmental milestones to look forward to, and all can be considered key. Less essential is when they happen (every baby is different!)… as long as most of them are reached eventually. And while these exciting developmental milestones won’t happen at the same age for every baby, they will, at least most of the time, happen during the very wide range of what would be considered normal.
Milestones can be broken into various categories: Large motor skills (with skills like gaining head control, learning how to lift the chest while on the tummy, rolling over, sitting, crawling, pulling to stand, cruising, standing alone, and then walking); small motor skills (reaching for toys, picking up objects first with the whole hand and later with the thumb and index finger, exploring objects in baby’s mouth, squeezing objects, clapping hands, waving, and even stacking toys); language skills (cooing, babbling, understanding words, recognizing words for common objects, saying words, following directions); and social-emotional skills (that adorable smile, making eye contact, copying facial expressions, playing games like peek-a-boo, engaging with toys and people, trying to get attention, and eventually playing independently for shorts bursts). Nurture your little one’s development by giving your baby plenty of time on the floor to practice those large motor skills, providing plenty of hands-on experience with toys and finger games to practice those small motor skills, talking and interacting with your baby to promote those communication skills, and loving your baby to facilitate a sense of comfort, confidence, and encouragement to help build those social-emotional skills.
When should we be worried if a baby isn’t crawling or pulling to stand?
Parents are always wondering (and worrying) about those developmental milestones! It’s probably the most frequent question I get asked on Instagram (aside from those questions about feeding… and sleeping… and playing… and communicating…). The first thing I always remind parents is that every baby is different and every baby is on his or her own developmental timeline. And that means that one baby might be reaching the large motor skills weeks (or months) earlier than his peer… but that peer may be leaps and bounds ahead on social-emotional milestones. The good news is that the range of normal for a baby’s age is very (very) wide, so there’s usually nothing to worry about, even if your baby seems to be on the slower side when it comes to reaching a particular milestone.
Most babies will learn to crawl somewhere between 6 to 10 months. Crawling is considered by some experts (especially occupational therapists) to be a developmental must-do, while others (including many pediatricians) feel it’s not as crucial in the developmental spectrum of milestones. These experts are less concerned about a baby who isn’t crawling in the traditional way — as long as that baby has reached other motor milestones, is learning to coordinate each side of his or her body, is using each arm and leg equally, and is using some sort of locomotion to get around. If your baby isn’t able to move around by either crawling, scooting, or rolling by 12 months, it’s time to call the pediatrician.
Babies will pull to stand, on average, around 9 to 12 month. If by 12 months your baby isn’t able to support his body weight, it could mean he has low muscle tone, so be sure to speak to the doctor about it.
What are your favorite play activities for 6 -12 months?
Babies in the second half of the first year are so much fun… especially when they play. By this age many babies are sitting well on their own, enabling them to play with a whole new perspective. And then, when they pull up and start cruising, the world opens up even more! To help them fine tune their fine motor skills, I love giving babies stacking and sorting toys, teaching them how to roll a ball back and forth, giving them musical toys to play with, introducing age-appropriate puzzles, and even blowing bubbles for them. Playing interactive human games are perfect for this age, too, and really helps in the social-emotional department. Peek-a-Boo, Itsy-Bitsy Spider, and This Little Piggy are loads of fun for your little one. To help nurture those large motor skills, the best activities are the ones that lets your little explorer explore… so don’t keep your baby cooped up in seats, strollers, stationary activity centers, and other confining locations. And finally, chatting with and reading to your baby are crucial to help bring out the communicator in your little cutie.
What are your go-to teething relief recommendations?
Teething pain is no fun for your cutie, but there are some ways to ease the ouch when your baby is teething. Giving your baby something to chew on – your finger, a teething toy, a cool washcloth (soaked in chamomile for extra relief!) — are all great ways to ease the pain and gives baby the chance to apply his or her own counterpressure to those aching gums. You can also rub or massage those gums with your finger to provide some teething pain help. Some parents love to offer baby a feeder bag with frozen formula/breastmilk or fruit in it for baby to gum. If your baby is in a lot of pain, ask the doctor if you should offer baby acetaminophen. Don’t use numbing gels that contain benzocaine (it’s not safe for baby) and most experts recommend against using homeopathic remedies and numbing products since they can either be unsafe or ineffective. And steer clear of teething necklaces or bracelets made of amber since they are choking and strangulation hazards. What’s more, there’s no scientific data to show that wearing amber bead necklaces provides any kind of pain relief – and experts say it’s actually impossible to work as purported since the succinic acid in the beads can’t actually be absorbed into the skin from a necklace (or bracelet) as claimed.
What are some of the myths about baby’s first year?
There are lots of myths that are stubbornly passed from generation to generation and social media mom to mom, but that have either been debunked or that never were true in the first place. Myths like baby needs a bath every day (there’s nothing wrong with a daily bath, but baby doesn’t need it), that holding a baby will spoil him (loving your baby and being responsive to a young baby is always recommended), that adding cereal to a baby’s bottle with help her sleep longer (it won’t, plus it could be risky), that “educational” toys will make a baby smarter (they won’t so don’t bother spending money on toys that claim they will), that teething causes fever (a high fever is rarely teething related), that all babies get nipple confusion (they don’t), that the house has to be quiet when baby is sleeping (it doesn’t), that vaccines cause autism (they absolutely don’t), that pacifiers are bad for baby (they aren’t bad in the first year and are actually helpful during sleep since they reduce the risk of SIDS), that babies need to poop every day (they don’t after the first month or so), that you have to wait to feed certain foods because of allergies (not true, and in fact it’s best to introduce allergenic foods early), that babies should drink juice (not at all!), and so many more!